What The Media Tell
Americans About Free Enterprise
Aiding and Abetting a Land Grab
Reporters Ignore Criticisms of
Administration's Urban Sprawl Policy
again are demonstrating that on environmental issues they not only
fail to interview sources from both sides, they don’t even
acknowledge that a side skeptical of expanding government exists.
This time the issue is the Clinton administration’s "Livability
Agenda," which would have the federal government buy up more land,
encourage mass transit use, and subsidize people who live in cities,
all in the name of stopping "urban sprawl."
reporters have simply assumed that everyone supports this goal, and
have ignored free-market environmentalists’ concerns about
government ownership of large amounts of land.
January 11 Washington Post, staff writer Judith Havemann reports
that the "outward growth of American metropolitan areas has eaten up
1.5 million acres of farmland each year since 1960, federal figures
show." In that same day’s Los Angeles Times, staff writer Judy
Pasternak, also ignoring opponents of Clinton’s plan, found space to
quote a White House advisor who said, "The federal government could
be a better partner for local communities that are grappling with
next day’s New York Times, Michael Jarofsky chides the federal
government for not moving fast enough: "While administration
officials are promoting the proposal as a bold stroke, bringing
together such traditional adversaries as environmentalists and
developers, states like Maryland, Oregon, and New Jersey, and local
communities and conservation groups, have been attacking problems of
boundless growth for years."
the issue really this simple, with no independent experts arguing
against federal land grabs?
G. Holcombe, professor of economics at Florida State University and
chairman of the Research Advisory Council of the James Madison
Institute, dissents from the conventional wisdom in the forthcoming
edition of PERC Reports (February, 1999).
people understandably overestimate the amount of the nation that is
developed because most people live in developed areas," writes
Holcombe, "but developed areas in the United States, excluding
Alaska, are only 6.2 percent of the nation’s total land area, and
the federal government is the nation’s largest landowner." He
reports that Uncle Sam owns 60 percent of Oregon’s land —
"effectively placing most of Oregon’s land off-limits to developers"
— and 46.9 percent of California.
also notes that urban sprawl is in some cases beneficial: "Yards
filled with trees and shrubs absorb dust and chemicals, so smaller
amounts of pollutants escape into the air and water. In contrast, in
dense urban areas buildings, roads, and parking lots take up a
higher percentage of the land, leaving little of the natural
environment to absorb pollutants."
to Holcombe, local governments could curb traffic problems by
obtaining "adequate rights-of-way for roads, limit[ing] the number
of allowable curb cuts, and requir[ing] access lanes or separate
access roads rather than direct access to thoroughfares."
such as Holcombe, who oppose green policies to expand government,
the press is a hostile environment.
Lawyers: Hollywood's Heroes
Movies and Television Portray Noble
Attorneys Fighting Evil Businesses
good lawyer jokes lately? If you have, most likely you didn’t hear
them in a movie or on a prime time television show. While the
general public tends to disdain trial lawyers, Hollywood loves them.
A Civil Action, co-produced by Robert Redford and starring John
Travolta, is the latest in a line of movies this decade in which
heroic trial lawyers attempt to bring down evil businessmen or other
is based on an actual case in which residents of Woburn,
Massachusetts sued Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace for allegedly
polluting local wells with trichloroethylene (TCE), which they
claimed led to a cluster of leukemia cases in the town. The movie
portrays personal injury attorney Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta) as
bankrupting his small law firm in an effort to "seek justice" for
the eight Woburn families, with Grace and its attorneys given the
role of lead villains.
movie, there is no question but that Grace — and probably Beatrice —
were guilty. Grace tries to intimidate its employees into not
testifying; its lead attorney is without scruples as he uses
underhanded attempts to get the case dismissed; and Beatrice is
portrayed as getting out of paying the Woburn families only because
no one actually saw Beatrice employees dumping hazardous chemicals.
situation was a bit different. "When personal injury lawyers set
about identifying the cause of their clients’ illnesses, they use
sophisticated methodology," writes science journalist Michael
Fumento in the December 28 Forbes. "First they identify someone with
deep pockets. Then they find something that Deep Pockets did that a
jury might accept as the cause of the illnesses." This, according to
Fumento, was what happened in the actual Woburn case.
identifies "two good reasons the Woburn leukemias, even if they were
due to pollution, had nothing to do with Grace’s pollution. First,
it is now widely believed that TCE is not a human carcinogen. Next,
even if it were, Grace’s TCE could not have migrated to the wells in
question in time to cause an effect." In fact, two years before
Grace opened its Woburn machine shop, the city was warned by an
engineering firm that a nearby aquifer was too polluted to be used
for drinking-water wells. The city ignored the report and dug the
wells, but Beatrice and Grace were the ones sued because they had
the most money.
political left knows it has a propaganda winner with A Civil Action,
and it plans to make the most of the movie. The Manhattan
Institute’s Walter Olson reports, in the December 23 Wall Street
Journal, that environmentalists were planning tie-in events, while
"The Progressive is hoping the movie...will revive trial lawyers’
image and fuel public anger at big business."
isn’t the first movie in this decade that inflates the image of
lawyers. To cite just a few examples: In The Rainmaker, Matt Damon
plays a young lawyer who forces a giant insurance company into
bankruptcy because it denied his clients’ claim. In The Pelican
Brief, Julia Roberts plays a law student who uncovers a big-money
conspiracy to murder two Supreme Court Justices. And in A Few Good
Men, Tom Cruise plays a young Navy attorney who takes on a powerful,
but corrupt, Marine general played by Jack Nicholson.
sure, many movie trial lawyers are portrayed as flawed human beings.
Travolta’s character in A Civil Action, for instance, starts out
looking as materialistic as any big business owner; he loves his
expensive suits and his fancy car. But as the movie progresses, we
see that deep down he’s an idealist who will go to the mat for what
is right. As with so many movie trial lawyers, he finds redemption
through his work.
transformation occurred with Tom Cruise’s character in A Few Good
Men. When the movie begins, he is a cynical military lawyer biding
his time until he can leave the service. By the time the movie ends,
he is on an idealistic crusade for the truth, which Jack Nicholson’s
character famously insists he can’t handle. Usually, the only
irredeemable bad-guy lawyers in the movies are those defending
businesses or tied to organized crime. Those going after a business
or some other powerful entity are presented as doing the Lord’s
entertainment world’s love for trial lawyers cannot be merely
attributed to movie versions of John Grisham’s novels, either. On
prime time television, the legal profession is portrayed as far more
virtuous than business. A 1997 Media Research Center study found
that lawyer characters committed only one percent of TV crimes.
Business characters, on the other hand, committed 29.2 percent of
all TV crimes (including 30.4 percent of all TV murders).
over three times more than characters in any other occupation,
including career criminals, who were the perps in only 9.7 percent
of prime time crimes. Big Businessmen were especially bad. Fully
15.6 percent of all characters who owned big businesses were
criminals, and almost half — 46 percent — cheated in their work to
lawyers, on the other hand, were more upstanding than TV doctors
(who committed 4.1 percent of the TV crimes), government officials
(3.9 percent), police officers (3.5 percent), students (2.5
percent), members of the military (2.1 percent), blue collar workers
(1.8 percent), scientists (1.4 percent), and teachers (1.2 percent).
Hollywood even portrayed itself as more prone to crime than lawyers:
TV entertainers committed 2.3 percent of TV crimes, a small number,
but more than twice the percentage of crimes committed by lawyers on
As in the
movies, some TV lawyer characters are rascals who, at least at the
beginning of the show, you wouldn’t want your daughter to date. But
by the end of the show, they’ve been ennobled by their profession,
especially if they’ve taken down a big business. Lawyering, as it is
portrayed in the movies or on television, is almost inherently
lawyers may be the butt of much humor, but if they want to find
solace, they need look no further than the local movie house or the
living room television set.
On December 29, ABC’s Nightline looked into, as host
Aaron Brown put it, "how it is that we are wealthier than ever and
saving virtually nothing."
Correspondent Michel McQueen noted that high stock
prices have people feeling richer, and so they’re saving less. A
market correction, she reported, could leave people with very
little. After her report, Brown interviewed former Secretary of
Labor Robert Reich and Vince Passaro of Harper’s magazine.
No one during the entire half hour spoke about the
effect high taxes have on personal savings. With the federal
government garnering an increasing amount of revenues and running a
surplus, would it be prudent to cut taxes to bol-ster savings? It
didn’t occur to anyone at Nightline to ask.
On December 31, NBC Nightly News looked back at
"Fleecing of America" stories from the previous twelve months, and
in doing so showed again why "Fleecing," along with "Your Money" on
ABC World News Tonight, is one of the best news segments on network
"No matter how you look at it, it’s still an
outhouse at the Delaware Water Gap National Park in Pennsylvania,"
said NBC’s Brian Williams, reminding viewers of the $770,000 the
government spent on the boondoggle. Williams also told viewers of a
March report about the security detail for Washington, D.C. Mayor
Marion Barry: Fifteen bodyguards at a cost of $1.1 million. He
reported that taxpayers lose $1.5 billion a year to food-stamp
fraud, including stamps sent to more than 26,000 dead people, "whose
survivors still reap the benefits of this widespread fleecing," and
that, after Hurricane Bonnie, North Carolina residents were again
using federal money to rebuild in hurricane-heavy areas.
Kudos to NBC News for showing some healthy
journalistic skepticism about government programs.
Guest Editorial, Tim Graham
If reporters trodding the Campaign 2000 beat spend
1999 recycling the last two months of 1998, we’re in store for more
media-driven promotion of a new and improved brand of Republican.
The Weekly Standard parodied (but only slightly) the media fad with
the headline "George W. Bush Is Better Than God: Has Presidency
Locked Up in 2000" by "The Entire Washington Press Corps."
The parody has the press writing: "Gov. Bush taps
the microphone. Then he utters it: ‘Compassionate Conservatism.’ For
a second, all is silent, as the crowd absorbs the majesty of the
concept. Then...bedlam! Ecstasy! The reporters are going crazy! Here
he is, in the flesh! The un-Bauer! The un-Gingrich! The un-Buchanan!
A Republican we can all approve of!"
Isn’t it strange to see the same reporters who
choked on the father’s "Message: I Care" in 1992, carrying the son’s
"compassionate conservative" banner six years later? Before the
election results had even begun to trickle in, the networks were
touting the new GOP begun by George W. Bush and his brother Jeb. On
the morning of Election Day, NBC’s Tim Russert started the ball
rolling about how the "moderate governors" would lead Republicans to
the electoral promised land with "compassionate conservatism."
But none of these pundits parsed the final election
results to see if their theory matched reality.
Yes, 23 of 25 incumbent GOP governors won. But the
same pattern held in Congress: 26 of 29 Senate incumbents won, and
only six House incumbents out of 402 who ran were defeated, for a
re-election rate of 98.5 percent, which edged the previous high of
98.3 in 1988. For all the media talk about governors teaching
Congress how to win, nobody noticed that House incumbents had a
better victory percentage than the governors.
Why tout the governors? One could argue that many
governor’s races were sewn up early, while many Senate races were
nail-biters and the networks (except for CNN) pay almost zero
attention to House races. One also could argue that Congress is a
regular network beat where reporters have been beating up on the
Republican "revolution" for four years running, while the governors
only receive an occasional national media parachute drop, usually in
connection with bubbling presidential ambitions, as with Bush, the
Sequel. Most obviously, the media talked up the governors because
the governors were tearing down their congressional colleagues and
trying to transform the party’s pose from Reaganite anti-statism to
go-along, get-along "pragmatic centrism."
Ironically, many of these newly designated
"moderate" governors used to be demonized as too conservative by the
national media. ABC’s Jack Smith summed up Jeb Bush’s race against
Lawton Chiles in October of 1994: "A Democratic activist constrained
by the voters’ desire here for little more than safe streets and low
taxes, versus a radical conservative with virtually no experience in
governing." Just two years ago, then-CBS reporter Linda Douglass
downgraded Michigan Governor John Engler’s chances as a running mate
for Bob Dole: "Engler wants the job, he’s very conservative, he’s a
passionate campaigner. But he may be too conservative to appeal to
the women voters, for example, who are going to have trouble with a
totally conservative Republican ticket."
If the networks had done any homework on the
governors, they might have noticed that in his last report card on
the governors’ fiscal records, the Cato Institute’s Stephen Moore
noted that these Republican governors in large states are using the
current economic good times (and resulting revenue boosts) to strike
poses both "moderate" and conservative — increasing state spending
by five or six percent a year at the same time they’re offering
supply-side tax cuts or simple tax rebates.
If the congressional conservatives had advocated tax
cuts this year as forcefully as the governors have in the last four
years, in addition to spending away the surplus, the media wouldn’t
have cheered their "moderation," but attacked them as fiscally
irresponsible water boys for the rich. If any one of these governors
had been able to propose that agenda from the White House in 1998,
they would have faced the same catcalls. That ought to be a sobering
reminder to the current GOP media darlings with an eye on the 2000
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